Fidelity, sustainability & accountability

As I dive into the new SIG research, several findings correspond with what I see and hear every day. The Center on Education Policy’s, State Implementation and Perceptions of Title I School Improvement Grants under the Recovery Act: One Year Later, publication reports:

  1. “Of the 45 survey states which reported that one or more of their schools were using the transformation model, 26 said this model was effective in improving achievement in these schools to a great extent or some extent. Nine states responded that the effectiveness of the transformation model varies from school to school, and 10 said it was too soon to tell about the model’s effectiveness.”
  2. “Although some state respondents (16) said that concentrating large amounts of federal funds on a small number of low-achieving schools is an effective means for improving these schools, many respondents (20) were unsure. … Two states said it was too soon to know for sure whether this is the case. One state noted that this is true to some extent, but only if schools can sustain the reforms funded by ARRA SIG once the money is gone. One state said the success of this strategy varies from school to school.”
  3. “Ten states reported that in one or two schools they did not renew the round 1 ARRA SIGs for a second year of funding. These states cited various criteria that these non-renewed schools had not met, including the following:
  • Fidelity in implementing the chosen intervention model
  • Fidelity in carrying out the activities proposed in the grant application
  • Progress on leading indicators
  • Progress toward annual district student achievement goals in reading and/or math”

These three excerpts directly relate to three challenges that I believe are needed to successfully implement SIG in a chronically low-performing school (or system).

  • Fidelity – The transformation, turnaround and restart models only work if they are implemented with fidelity. By fidelity of implementation I mean that simply providing teachers additional professional development workshops is not sufficient. Instead, that PD must be aligned with the school’s and teachers’ needs. In addition, once PD is provided, it must also be monitored to see if the new practices are making their way into classrooms.
  • Sustainability – In order to sustain any of the improvements made during the implementation of the SIG models, changes must be made at the district level. While the federal program is called the School Improvement Grant program, I cannot reiterate enough that it’s really about district improvement. District offices and practices are often outdated, bureaucratic, inefficient, and not helpful to schools. In addition to structural changes that might be necessary at the district level, the SIG schools must also be protected from “business as usual” (i.e. SIG schools should have priority in filling teacher vacancies or should be exempt from district-provided PD sessions if they’re not aligned with the school’s needs). In order to sustain results, practices at the school and district must become embedded into the system, and become the new status quo.
  • Accountability – While states must make tough decisions with potential political ramifications, it’s great (and exceedingly rare) to see that some State Education Agencies did not fund year 2 continuation grants to some schools. School Improvement has been tried before (in many of the current SIG schools), and the adults often think that this reform will blow over (like all the others before). But, SIG is different. State’s are now holding districts and schools accountable for how the money is spent, what results are achieved, and state’s have the ability (and support of the federal government) to enforce the requirements.
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